People always liked Jimmy Stewart and were amazed by his good luck. In the late 1930s, he worked under contract for the studio moguls at MGM. Almost alone in the industry, he later professed to have pleasant memories of the experience. He had affairs with many of his leading ladies, including Ginger Rogers and Marlene Dietrich, as well as Norma Shearer, Olivia de Havilland and others, with no hard feelings on either side except in the case of Dietrich. Maybe he 'walked between the raindrops', as a marvelling collaborator once said. But reports are just as consistent about less flattering traits. Though he was an amusing companion, nobody ever called him a warm man. Even at home, he left himself at home; the depths only show in what he became on screen. Critics have paid their respects over the years with an admiration that has often seemed to catch the admirer by surprise: Otis Ferguson, a reviewer who never puffed, thought Stewart in The Shop around the Corner 'a young American with as broad and unaffected a base in a country's experience as Huck Finn'. It has been the way of critics, and the habit on the whole of audiences, too, to take Stewart as something the native climate effortlessly produced. But Stewart for his part never cared for the praise of his friend Henry Fonda that he was a natural actor. Carole Lombard, who had worked with Fredric March, Charles Laughton, William Powell and John Barrymore, thought him more remarkable than any of them. On screen, his name appeared as James Stewart, and he worked hard at every detail.
LRB 12 December 2002 | PDF Download